Northeastern University Students to Get Amazon Echo Dots This Fall
USA Today reported yesterday that some students at Northeastern University will have the option to receive an Amazon Echo Dot “linked to their university accounts,” this fall. The program will enable students to access information about their classes, accounts and student life by speaking with Alexa. According to USA Today’s Elizabeth Weise:
“They’ll be able to ask Amazon’s Alexa what time their classes are, how much money’s left on their food card and even how much they owe the bursar’s office.”
Previously students would have gone online for this information or made a phone call. On the surface, this appears similar to a program launched by Arizona State University in August 2017 for incoming first-year engineering students. However, that program didn’t include such extensive integration with university information systems and was in part designed to spur students to become Alexa skill developers. The Northeastern University program is less about students as future voice application creators and more about them as consumers of information.
N-Powered Focuses on Enabling Universities to Leverage Voice
The solution is provided by Boston-based N-Powered which is also working with other universities to implement similar services. N-Powered Co-CEO Joel Evans is an Amazon Alexa Champion and was previously an executive at the digital marketing agency Mobiquity, an early developer of Alexa skills. Evan’s co-founder and co-CEO is Somen Saha, a former IT director at Northeastern University and Staples. The duo co-founded N-Powered in February 2018 specifically to develop voice assistant solutions for universities. Evans commented in an interview this morning:
“Two-plus years ago I was implementing Alexa as a concierge for Crown Plaza. Somen and I then got the idea of what a college campus could be using voice. We are now partnering with universities to solve the challenges along the student journey from pre-enrollment through alumnus. A tremendous number of students are not graduating. Cost is part of it, but a bigger issue is lack of engagement. Students are feeling disconnected and overwhelmed.
“Universities will tell you they have all of this information and services to help students, but it is buried in a website somewhere. By integrating disparate systems behind the scenes, we are creating a 360-degree view of the student and make that available to students, faculty and staff. This can help students feel more connected with easier access to information that universities have, but is often hard to find. As fast as the student can think of something they need, they can take care of it with Alexa. Our APIs allow us to pull the information in 5-seconds.”
As fast as the student can think of something they need, they can take care of it with Alexa.
A video demonstration of the solution for Northeastern University is depicted in the video below.
Alexa as a Vertical Information Service
One of the primary benefits of Alexa and other voice assistants is the ability to quickly provide information. That is why queries about the weather and general knowledge routinely top lists of most frequent smart speaker use cases. It is also a core benefit for services like Alexa for Hospitality that Amazon rolled out earlier this week for hotels. Alexa for Hospitality and the new solution for universities from N-Powered reflect both the practical use of voice assistants for answering questions and a rapid move to vertical-specific solutions.
Up to this point, voice assistant solutions have predominantly been horizontal and generic. However, we are now seeing more providers come to market with solutions that are designed to help customers in banking, healthcare, media, hospitality and higher education. You should expect this trend to accelerate in the coming months.